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COA: Sentence appropriate for officer involved in deadly accident

May 5, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a police officer’s sentence for reckless homicide and criminal recklessness inflicting serious bodily injury after he crashed into a car while under the influence of hydrocodone and Xanax. The crash killed a man in the other car and severely injured his wife, who was nine months pregnant.

Rebecca Sperry was traveling home from church with her husband Jesse in the passenger seat in her Buick along Ind. 32 when she saw an SUV traveling at a high rate of speed gaining on them from behind. The SUV, which was driven by police officer James Foutch, did not pass them, but instead hit the Buick. The collision killed Jesse Ferry, who had leaned over to protect Rebecca, and caused serious injury to Rebecca, who later in the day had her baby. The baby turned out to be fine. Foutch was uninjured.

Foutch admitted he took 7.5 mg of prescribed hydrocodone and some non-prescribed Xanax. After a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to reckless homicide as a Class C felony and criminal recklessness inflicting serious bodily injury as a Class D felony and was sentenced to an aggregate 11-year sentence, with eight years in the Department of Correction and three suspended to probation. That was the maximum sentence for each of those felonies. Foutch appealed his sentence, saying it was in appropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the nature of his character.

Foutch asserted the nature of the case is “simply a run of the mill recklessness while driving which resulted in the death of one person and injury of another,” but the court vehemently disagreed in an opinion written by Judge Patricia Riley. “We find that Foutch’s argument gravely minimizes the severity of his actions and the consequences thereof, and we resolutely disagree with his trivialization of his conduct merely as an ‘inadvertent driving error,’” she wrote.  She said Foutch knowingly took his drugs, didn’t brake before he crashed into the car, and caused serious injury and death.

Riley did say there were several redeeming qualities to Foutch’s character, including taking responsibility for his conduct by pleading guilty. He also expressed genuine remorse.

But, this isn’t the first time Foutch had engaged in reckless conduct. His driver’s license had been suspended 18 times, and he had six speeding convictions in seven years. He also had been convicted of driving while suspended three times. At the time of the accident, Foutch was also driving without auto insurance.

Because of those factors, the COA said his sentence was not inappropriate.

The case is James D. Foutch v. State of Indiana, 48A02-1509-CR-1590.
 

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